The headline BBC news item this morning was based on an in-depth interview Boris granted to The Sun on Sunday in which he gave an account of his recent two-day sojourn in the Intensive Care Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Unlike Icarus, I don’t on principle go anywhere near The Sun, of which more later, so I have to rely on the Independent’s report about The Sun on Sunday’s report about what Boris said. He is reported to have asserted that he had to be “forced” to go to hospital because he was feeling “pretty rough”, and described the experience as a “tough old moment” during which he had kept asking himself: “How am I going to get out of this?’’ A colloquial interpretation of the stiff-upper-lipped public-school-speak understatement would go something along the lines of: “It was a bloody nightmare.” As I am quite sure it must have been.
Two other quotations from the reported interview drew my attention. The first was Boris’s statement that “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘Death of Stalin’ – type scenario”. This answered, at least in part, the currently frequently asked question as to whether his experience might have changed him. Prior to his illness Boris was inclined to think of himself as Churchill rather than as the dodgiest member of the Yalta triumvirate. The second was his comment that when he became so ill that there was a 50-50 chance that he would have to be intubated and put on a ventilator ‘they were starting to think about how to handle it [his death] presentationally.” Leaving aside the obvious point that it certainly wouldn’t do “presentationally” to point out that the Prime Minister would have brought his own death upon himself by recklessly ignoring how dangerous the virus was to which he had succumbed, I found myself wondering whether this concern about how his death would be handled “presentationally” might not reveal a subconscious recognition that his entire adult life had been largely “presentational”.
For inveterate UK media watchers – and lockdown provides far too much scope and temptation to join that sad subset of people who should, but currently can’t, get out more often – Boris’s decision to bestow his musings on The Sun on Sunday is telling. The Sun on Sunday and its daily counterpart, The Sun, are the UK’s leading Sunday and daily newspapers when it comes to sales, to the tune of around 100,000 copies each more than their closest rivals from the Mail stable. The Sun, with its unspeakably contemptible coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, also leads so far in what has always seemed a highly competitive tabloid rivalry to see who can produce the most shameful demonstration of what journalism shouldn’t be. Right now I wouldn’t, however, bet against it, or one of its rivals, plumbing even lower depths with nakedly racist treatment of Megan Markle.
The Sun’s banner-headlined version of the “The Truth” at Hillsborough, which exonerated the police from their responsibility for the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans by depicting them as a bunch of drunken football hooligans who picked the pockets of their crushed their fellow fans, and urinated on police trying to save the lives of the victims, was extraordinarily influential all the way up the political food chain to Margaret Thatcher. It took 23 years, during which The Sun was boycotted in Liverpool, for the truth to be uncovered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel and publicly acknowledged that the original story had been a tissue of lies fed to the newspaper by the South Yorkshire Police. The Sun finally printed a fulsome apology in September 2012, acknowledging that ‘the people of Liverpool may never forgive us for the injustice we did them.’ The people of Liverpool haven’t forgiven them; The Sun is still boycotted in Liverpool. But Boris Johnson is the last politician I can think of who would ever have been concerned about a media outlet carrying lies. Any Tory leader must, by definition, keep on the good side of Rupert Murdoch the non-British media baron who owns the The Sun. All five Liverpool constituencies voted Labour in the 2019 General Election with a minimum of 70% of the votes cast, so where the Tories are concerned Liverpool is a lost cause. And why would Boris ever consider overlooking 100,000 potential members of the Boris Adoration Choir for the sake of a mere matter of principle?